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Chris Tomlinson, founder and director, Data Science Foundation

Chris Tomlinson

Path to power

My career started when I completed the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s programme, being awarded an MA in public relations and communications and becoming a chartered marketer. Over the years I have tried to use my skills where possible to develop initiatives that either support good causes or have a positive impact in the community. One of these was to raise money for a homeless charity, another created one of the largest food and drink festivals in the UK.

 

Having worked as a marketing consultant, both agency and in-house in the technology sector, I went on to launch a number of companies. My interest in data analytics arose through connections with a university offering one of the first masters programmes in data science in the UK.

 

This led to an understanding of the challenges faced by the university in obtaining data for live projects and to the opportunity that evidence based decision making offered to companies. This insight underpinned the formation of the Data Science Foundation, the launch of the International Data Science Awards and being called upon to chair four prestigious conferences this year in London, Amsterdam and two in Silicon Valley.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Creating a platform, the Data Science Foundation, to influence technological development and using this platform to speak on behalf of those who will be affected most by developing technologies. The Data Science Foundation was created to be a source of data science and artificial intelligence knowledge and expertise.

 

The Foundation is a communications and publishing platform for data scientists, as well as a source of information for the public and a resource for organisations wanting to make better use of their data. Its mission is to encourage socially and environmentally responsible use of data and AI in all spheres, towards a better society.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

I admire many tech entrepreneurs for their drive, vision and ability to make excellence happen. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and others. But for personal values and long-term positive impact Nelson Mandela is a real inspiration. He was selfless, respectful and non-discriminatory. Plus, he retained these values when he came into power.

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

2019 was the year that technology exposed weaknesses in tried and tested political systems and saw leaders rising from the streets rather than the ballot box. Where communications technology, social media and data analytics played upon insecurities and prejudice. Where poorly informed, self-interested politicians reduced the power of democracy and used the power of the state to retain control. And, of course, 2019 has to be referred to as the year that climate change became an undeniable fact, where many governments and most media outlets finally support the scientific community.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

Large organisations will continue to develop sophisticated inhouse capabilities to gather and process data, others will make use of specialist agencies. This will lead to changes in the way organisations function and to the environment in which they function.

 

AI will continue to develop quickly and will become essential to “safe” decision making in many sectors. Middle managers’ roles will reduce in number and will change to become technology support functions. AI and robotics will converge to displace many manual roles, with manufacturing returning to developed nations due to new, efficient labour-free manufacturing processes and to unrest resulting from political instability and climate change.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

There are great opportunities for businesses, particularly for small to medium sized businesses, to embrace data analytics and to benefit from evidence-based decision making.

 

Specialists will be able to develop more client specific and higher value services; generalists will be able to increase scope and reduce costs.

 

Data analytics from a commercial perspective, should be viewed as a tool that provides information to the marketing professional. The marketing director then operates at a strategic level, developing products and services to satisfy customer requirements and ensuring the long-term viability of the business

 

What is the biggest tech challenge organisations face in ensuring data is at the heart of their digital transformation strategy?

Businesses face four main challenges when embarking on digital transformation. Losing sight of core values and culture; why is the company valued by its customers? Being afraid of change; are there new opportunities or are some offerings obsolete? Staff not included in planning; are they informed and supportive?

 

Finally, the challenge of making the correct strategic decisions in terms of technical selection and progression, which problems to address first and the challenges of hiring the right staff. Poor decisions here could be expensive in terms of cash but could also hold an organisation back by many months, allowing the competition to gain market share.

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